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Rajpal's Column

19th July 1998

A historical necessity: rationalising the nationalisation

By Rajpal Abeynayake

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So what's this talk of the anniversary of the Lake House takeover, when Hotel Buhari was taken over as well and even the buriyani there now tastes like it was government owned?

Felix R. Dias Bandaranaike, was the moving force behind the Lake House power-grab, and there would be people who argue that he surely paid his price for that smacking act of authoritarianism. But, this Lake House business has always hinged in this country on which side of the progressive divide you belonged to. For example, there have been Lake House leftists who have argued, and still continue to argue that the Lake House takeover of that era was a 'historical necessity' because of the fact that governments were made and unmade unfairly by the gentlemen who ran the country from beside the Beira.

Sometimes, historical necessity is unpopular, and one such for instance, was the 'historical necessity' to give the Sinhala majority a place in the sun after years of neglect under colonial rule. So, the pendulum was made to swing back, and the Sinhalese public servants were given some degree of preference over Tamil colleagues to redress a national historical grievance. Eventually, all of it became history, and as surely as the 1956 social revolution became part of our past, the Lake House take-over became history as well.

For a newer generation, brought up on Musiv TV and the Kentucky chicken culture, it will be difficult to imagine that it was the SLFP and not the rightist UNP that took over Lake House 25 years ago. Here is a younger generation that has seen a centrist PA/SLFP government giving away state enterprises to the private sector, and doing so proudly . So was it this same progressive political flank that took over a private newspaper organisation sometime ago?

It was, but the matter doesn't end there, because the UNP government that followed institutionalised the take-over, and made Lake house into a juggernaut of no mean proportions. So much so that the 'historical necessity' of a PA government on the verge of power in 1994, was to reverse the trend and give the organisation back to the private sector. A former historical necessity had to be reversed to satisfy the current historical urge .

Now the Lake House is a rationalised newspaper organisation, which was first nationalised by the Sri Lanka Freedom party, and then given over to the UNP which rationalised the nationalisation -something which it opposed when in the opposition. Since then, journalists have been rationalising the Lake House nationalisation, citing historical necessity and all that kind of other sophistication.

Whatever it may be, what strikes us in hindsight now is that if something looks like a duck and walks like a duck eventually it becomes a duck. Lake House, for all the king's horses and men who didn't like the idea of continued state control, is now Lake House, the state media organisation that sits lordly beside the lake.

Tailpiece: Is it a coincidence that the day Rupert Murdoch was charged in an Indian court for obscenity, that Sri Lanka welcomed a new satellite channel, and heralded the coming of pay TV? Rupert's Star TV will assuredly be seen in Sri Lankan living rooms, pizzazz, obscenity, vulgarity and all. Incidentally, Murdoch generally has his way, and he plans to ignore the Indian court charges fashionably. Rupert is not an exciting man, but his TV channels are different. So, is Sri Lanka ready for Murdoch's rising star?

Well, look at it this way. This is television country where the slogan is: no kisses please, we are Lankans. Though people can be shown in various states of drunkenness, we blot out liquor bottles with little screen pixels. The screen pixels which dance around, make the liquor scenes more conspicuous, but no matter.

We also blot out the screen with dancing dots each time there is a chaste kiss or smooch, which is not something Indian.

TV emulates. The kissing scenes that are blotted here come out mostly from Hindi movies and other Indian flicks.

If that's the case, what kind of dichotomy are we ready to entertain by inviting pay TV, which has been taken to Indian courts because the content is too obscene - even for relatively advanced Indian tastes? Its a puzzling question, and maybe the theory is that pay TV is optional because it will be provided only to those viewers who pay for the channel. So does that mean that anything that can be bought cannot be obscene, or something like that. Buy your own smut, what?

But while on the subject, have you ever got the feeling that there are twenty television channels on the box, but there is nothing at all to see? Your personal reaction will probably depend on the kind of person you are.

If say for instance, the choice is between a Hindi channel, another Hindi channel and a Hindi soap, and you pick the Hindi movie over the Hindi teledrama, then you are probably fighting fit for this new television culture that has been spawned on the airwaves.

But, if the reaction is to switch to BBC and watch repeat telecasts of the news, and to switch to Sky TV and watch the same news, then you'd still be somebody who can fit in someway with the new TV culture.

But if the reaction is to switch the darn thing off, then welcome to the 29 channel club, where there is nothing really to watch.


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